KOI is back on top. The reigning champions of the LEC were the first to lock in their spot in the 2023 Winter Split playoffs after they toppled Team Vitality with ease. The turnaround comes as a relief to the organization. Following a terrible start to the year, KOI almost missed out on making it to the LEC Group Stage altogether. Head coach Simon “fredy122” Payne is more than happy that his team has found its footing.
After KOI qualified for the LEC Winter Split playoffs, fredy122 spoke with Em Dash and explained the team’s slow start to the year and discussed the turnaround for the team in the best-of-three stage. The head coach also defended the much-criticized decision to bring top laner Mathias “Szygenda” Jensen on board, explaining that his positivity and deeper champion pool will pay off in the long run.
KOI’s slow start to the LEC
Welcome, fredy, and congratulations on what can only be described as a dominant victory over Vitality. Let’s build up to the series, though. KOI closed out the best-of-one stage in shaky fashion, especially for the reigning champions. What did you take from those first three weeks?
Honestly, I think we just did not have the best meta read. When you don’t have the best meta read, it means you’re wasting quite a lot of practice on the wrong things. We also didn’t scrim in December. So, not only did we have a bad meta read, but we also didn’t scrim as much as other teams. We were suffering from that. We were behind on everything. We had to play catch-up this week.
It was rough, and it was quite stressful. Especially after week two, I would say. Luckily, we’re still champions, and we managed to turn it around in time.
“When you don’t have the best meta read, it means you’re wasting quite a lot of practice on the wrong things. We also didn’t scrim in December.”
Why didn’t you scrim in December?
I was actually the one pushing for it. A lot of the players agreed, though. Apart from Szygenda—he wanted to scrim. [Laughs]
We made that decision because it was a very long year for us. If we would’ve started at the same time as other teams, I think we would’ve had only a month-and-a-half of rest. We went to Worlds for the third year in a row and we just wanted a longer break. One could say that might’ve hurt us in the first few weeks, but we survived.
So, you don’t regret the decision?
Nah. Now, it’s worth it. If we would’ve finished ninth, we would’ve regretted it, I can promise that. [Laughs]
Shifting gears for best-of-threes
Heading into the best-of-threes, you had some time to adjust. It’s a new patch and you know which opponent you’re gonna play: SK. You only have a few days to prepare, though. Was it a hectic process?
Kind of. I will say, this patch just felt better for us from the get-go. Maybe Riot did us a favor. Yuumi was a champion we were never that good with. Heimerdinger was a champ that we didn’t play enough, so we didn’t really understand everything about it. Those two champions going out really helped us straight away.
But it’s still very chaotic. You have three days to prepare for a best-of-three. You just have to go with your instincts, I think. At the same time, you know what was strong in the last patch, and then you just see what gets nerfed. You work it out in your mind, and you try to decide what you should be practicing based on this. I think we made the right decision on this patch, in that regard.
“I think, when you play back-to-back best-of-threes, you just have to stick to the meta as much as you can. (…) It almost limits creativity, in a way.”
And knowing who you were playing against, did that help in any regard?
It’s an interesting thing. We didn’t prepare much for Vitality. We could only do a little bit of prep yesterday. We were playing SK, so most of our prep went to them. We didn’t know who was going to win on the other side, right? When we knew we would play against them, we could look at their drafts and prepare our own drafts that would be good versus them. But that also had to include things we had practiced ourselves.
I think, when you play back-to-back best-of-threes, you just have to stick to the meta as much as you can. It’s interesting. It almost limits creativity, in a way. Otherwise, you’re just practicing weird stuff as well, but you can’t really do that now.
Beating a desperate Vitality
In the match against Vitality, I personally expected them to play through their top side, which they ended up doing a lot. Did you have the same expectations?
We thought it was likely that it would happen, yeah. But the main focus of both of our drafts was to get an advantage in the bot lane. That’s why we played the Soraka in game one. We’re very good at that matchup, so we knew that we would have an advantage there. Comp got like five plates or something. [Laughs] We knew we would have a good bot matchup, so it was very likely that Szygenda would not be on carry duty. The same happened in game two.
“I don’t know what they’ve practiced, but I think the second draft was a bit crazy. Those kinds of drafts feel very desperate.”
Game two felt over after one minute. [Laughs] Vitality played a Xayah/Nautilus bot lane and had a Nidalee in the jungle. Did you know that the game would be over so quickly?
[Laughs] Yeah… I don’t know what happened. I don’t know what they’ve practiced, but I think the second draft was a bit crazy. Those kinds of drafts feel very desperate. It’s a ‘we can’t win draft’ where they just try something crazy. Maybe they don’t feel comfortable playing certain meta picks, so they end up in this situation. I’m not sure. If you make a mistake with that type of draft, it’s very hard to play it.
Why Szygenda makes KOI better
You’ve now made it to the best-of-fives and guarantee yourselves a top-three finish. Still, all things considered, I would say that this KOI feels quite different from the Rogue squad we saw triumph last year. Obviously, you’ve brought in Szygenda, and it takes time to adjust to a new player. But even the bot lane and mid/jungle felt off. What’s your perspective on the lineup right now?
I think the reason for our poor performance mainly was the meta read, as I said. It’s not that we don’t have an identity. We just had poor practice, a bad meta read, and maybe some poor individual performances as well. You can pick a reason, and it was probably there in our team. Once we started practicing well, we started fixing everything.
The upside, right now, is that everything in the team feels a bit better than last year. Szygenda brings a really good mood to the team. That’s insanely valuable in a player, I think. In awkward moments or bad moments, he can speak up and say something funny. That’s something that will help us the whole year.
“A lot of people are saying that we are just replicating what we did last year. That’s not really true. It’s just what we deem to be the meta right now. (…) We just have a few more things we can play in the top lane.”
When you brought in Szygenda, I thought, “Alright, they want to play through top more.” Szygenda is most comfortable playing carry champions. Champions like Jax and Gwen can carry and are options in the meta, but you haven’t played a lot through top yet.
When you have a team like this, where you have three lanes that can step up and carry, you just have to follow the meta. That’s my philosophy. If the meta says that the bot lane is OP, then bot lane is OP and you’re playing something like K’Sante top. That’s what is happening right now.
A lot of people are saying that we are just replicating what we did last year. That’s not really true. It’s just what we deem to be the meta right now. The bot picks are so strong… You can’t pick Ashe and not play around Ashe. She’s just gonna go 0-8 if you do that. That’s what’s happening right now.
If it flips around in the next split, if the meta says that Fiora is winning every game, then we’re playing Fiora. I think we are more capable of doing this now than we were last year. No disrespect to Odoamne, of course, but we wanted to have access to a third carry option if we needed it. We just have a few more things we can play in the top lane. That’s the benefit we have right now.
KOI plays its next series against G2 Esports on Monday, Feb. 20th, at 6 PM CET. You can watch the series live on the official LoL Esports site.